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What is Hey, and why are people queuing up for it?

The email service is packed with features, but will Indian users adopt it given the $99 price-point?

Will 'Hey' turn out to be a Gmail killer?
Will 'Hey' turn out to be a Gmail killer?

Every time a new invite-only email launches, promising to fix everything that’s wrong with email today (the cluttered inbox, the piles of unanswered mail that you keep forgetting to respond to, the five email threads on the same topic that you need to keep track of), there is much excitement on social media—especially on Twitter. It happened with Superhuman, which reportedly has a 180,000-member strong waiting list despite being largely panned by the US tech media for being an expensive email app that essentially reorganises your Gmail inbox, and it’s now happening with Hey, the new email from US-based tech company Basecamp.

Invite codes for Hey, which launched in mid-June, were being distributed on Twitter by early adopters all of last week and there was plenty of buzz around it, as there usually is when a new tech service bills itself as life-changing and is open by invitation only, but then the company announced on 25 June that it was open to everyone (after, reportedly, invite codes were sold on ebay for as much as $500).

Part of what makes any new tech like this attractive is the exclusivity, says Bengaluru-based developer Shrinivas SG, who signed up for Hey last week when the buzz around it started gaining momentum and several people he follows tweeted saying they had invite codes. “I signed up because of the Twitter hype and the scarcity of invites," says Shrinivas, “but I’m not sure it solves any real problem for me. It may help with work email by helping classify mail etc, but work mail can't be on Hey (unless his company signs up)."

Indian users may also experience some sticker shock—the email service costs $99 a year. Why would anyone want to pay that kind of money for email?

Well, to be fair, Hey’s credentials are solid, and its features look promising.

Hey, look at the features

Firstly, Hey lets you ‘screen’ your emails. The first time someone emails you, you get to decide if you want to hear from them again. If you screen them out, their email is hidden from view and you don’t have to bother about future emails from them unless you decide to unscreen them.

Hey also gives you a lot of control over your email and lets you sort it into neat piles according to priority and importance—its inbox is actually called an ‘Imbox’ (for ‘Im’portant and ‘Im’mediate; it’s ok to roll your eyes a bit at this)—unlike Gmail, which decides for you and sometimes makes it difficult to find email that lands up in the wrong folder. With Hey, there are more options: if you know you need to reply to an email, but don’t have time right now, you can mark it as 'Reply Later' and it drops into a stack at the bottom of the screen. There’s a 'Set Aside' button as well for email that you don’t need to reply to, but may need to reference later. It also lets you add personal sticky notes to any email in your ‘Imbox’ where you can jot down phone numbers, dates, links, or personal notes you may need the next time you reference that email.

Emails that don’t make it to the Imbox but aren’t screened go into the ‘Feed’—your newsletters, promos and email forum threads—or into the ‘Paper Trail’, which is all your financial docs such as credit card bills and Uber receipts.

There are features related to easier-to-handle email threads as well, such as being able to change to a clearer subject line without creating a new thread; a separate space for all email attachments (so you don’t have to dig through threads looking for a specific attachment); and merging different emails and threads on the same topic into one single, handy thread. Hey's founder Jason Fried has said that the new service “is really about surfacing things, and email is typically about digging."

Are there any takers?

Sounds cool, but is it worth $99 a year, though? Indian users we spoke to are not convinced. “I signed up for it two weeks back just to try it out. I don't think I would pay for it… It has some fresh ideas but it requires polish, at least for the way I want to use email," says Chennai-based Kanishk Dudeja, a software engineer. One of the issues Dudeja is concerned about is the email service’s lack of built-in notifications (there is an option to toggle this for specific senders) and the fear of missing important emails. “My main concern with Hey is that the screener works on a sender basis (by matching address). Some companies use the same email for both account alerts and marketing emails. so I can't totally block them since I want to receive account related alerts," says Dudeja, who moved to paid email from GSuite on a custom domain from free Gmail a few years ago.

“Using my own domain name email allows me to move email providers whenever I want. And $99 for a single email account is ridiculous," says photographer and restaurant consultant Madhu Menon. “Also, their trial is 2 weeks. Who can decide about an email service in 2 weeks? It should have been 2 months."

According to Hey’s founders, “free" email like Gmail isn’t free — you pay by giving up your privacy and valuable personal data. Also, bear in mind that Gmail’s free version only gives you 15 GB of space and users typically pay around 1500 a year for 100 GB (the default amount of storage on Hey). Still, the pricing is steep for Asian markets, and Hey has acknowledged this on its website: “We know $99 is a lot in certain markets, especially in the developing world. And we know there’s lots of interest in HEY in those markets. We’ll consider alternate pricing down the road, but for now we have a single USD $99/year price."

Till they do so, however, Hey is unlikely to change anything in the Indian market for email, which continues to be dominated by Gmail and Microsoft’s Outlook.

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